Middle infield competition heating up for Ole Miss

Posted on Feb 5 2013 - 7:00am by Lacey Russell

Last week, it looked as though senior John Gatlin was going to be the starter at second base, but after an injury to Gatlin last week, junior college transfer Lance Wilson and freshman Christian Helsel are battling it out for the starting job.

After losing All-American second baseman Alex Yarbrough, Ole Miss knew there would be big shoes to fill.

Senior John Gatlin appeared to be the guy who was going to be able to do that for head coach Mike Bianco, but after suffering a dislocated non-throwing shoulder, Gatlin is looking at a substantial amount of recovery time, and now the Rebels will continue the hunt to find a second baseman.

Two names that have surfaced as the frontrunners for the competition are junior college transfer Lance Wilson and freshman Christian Helsel.

Both took reps in the middle infield this past weekend during the team’s scrimmages. Bianco believes that things are looking up for the team at second base.

“Not as complicated as they were a week ago,” Bianco said of the situation at second.

“John is out with a dislocated shoulder and he’ll get an MRI sometime this week and we’ll know a little more, but certainly, out at least the first couple of weeks of the season. Seems like Lance (Wilson) has done the most since we’ve been back and done a great job offensively and defensively.”

Wilson, a Tuscaloosa, Ala., native, is in his first season with the Rebels after a two-year stint with Shelton State Community College.

Adjusting his game to adapt to this level has been something Wilson has worked on since arriving in Oxford, and he said he believes he is on the right track to seeing plenty of playing time when the season rolls around.

“One thing is just being comfortable,” Wilson said. “I’ve always played shortstop and now moving over to second base is a little bit of a transition and took a little bit of time to get used to it, but we get after it and I’ve taken a lot of reps there. So defensively, I feel like I’ve gotten better.

“And then just being along with the teammates. Just feeling a lot more comfortable with the guys, great group of guys, makes practice fun.”

Helsel is also in his first year with the Rebels and made the long trip from Pennsylvania to play for Ole Miss.

He also believes he is making big strides to stay competitive for a starting job in the middle infield.

“I improved a lot in the fall; our whole team did, and we are looking really good leading up to our first weekend,” Helsel said. “We’re really optimistic to how we are looking. They are moving me around a lot, which I am OK with. I like playing a lot of positions.”

Although the Rebels will be without Gatlin to start the season, the team is trying to find the positives and use the competition as motivation to make others better.

“The competition is always great,” Wilson said.

“We have so many great athletes here. You have Christian Helsel who has been making great plays, Luke Gibbs busts his butt every day. I look at it as a good thing. We’re all getting after it. Every single one of us has improved over time. I just look at it as a great opportunity for all of us.”

For continuing coverage of Ole Miss baseball, follow @SigNewton_2 and @thedm_sports on Twitter.